Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to be the coldest for 20 years

Fears for spectators and competitors as temperatures forecast to plummet to -15C

For years, the Winter Olympics were not that wintry and temperatures rarely dipped below freezing.

But this year’s Games, which open on Friday in Pyeongchang, are expected to be the coldest in more than 20 years. Temperatures are forecast to plummet to -15C (5F) in the first few days and the mercury is unlikely to creep above freezing. Strong winds blowing through the venues will make it feel even colder.

One of the biggest concerns is the opening ceremony, which is expected to draw 35,000 spectators to the newly built stadium. Despite a bill of $109m (£78m), the building lacks heating and a roof. It was not built to last and will be torn down after the Paralympics closing ceremony in March.

Winter Olympics opening ceremony survival kit
A seat-warmer, heat packets and a knitted hat that will be given to attendees of the opening ceremony. Photograph: Benjamin Haas/The Guardian

A few athletes will skip the ceremony, including some from Australia and Italy, worrying that standing in the cold for hours could harm their chances in competition. At the inaugural event at the stadium in November, seven people were treated for hypothermia.

Other teams have come prepared. US athletes will wear electrically heated jackets powered by a battery pack that tucks into an inside pocket. The hi-tech apparel costs about $2,500 apiece.

Those in the stands waiting to see the lighting of the Olympic torch will have to manage with a packet of supplies that includes a seat-warmer, blanket, windbreaker and knitted hat.

The small army of volunteers at Olympic venues have also taken precautions, wearing matching insulated trousers and thick coats. Metal door handles will be wrapped in thick fabric cozies to protect hands.

A volunteer uses handwarmers at the Winter Olympics
A volunteer uses handwarmers at the Olympic sliding centre ahead of the opening of the Games. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

The last time temperatures were this cold at the Winter Olympics was 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. To date, it is the coldest Games on record, with a low of -11C, but Pyeongchang is expected to easily beat that.

The sub-zero temperatures are also damaging expensive equipment on the ski slopes. Craig Randell, a ski course technician, told Reuters: “One of the coaches said they are throwing the skis out after today.

“You can’t do anything about it, but with the cold temperatures, the snow adheres to the ski base and twists it. They are turning their skis to garbage real fast.”

The scene is at odds with the Games four years ago in Sochi, Russia, where there were sunny skies and rivers of slush. The Winter Olympics eight years ago in Vancouver was also unusually warm and much of the snow was synthetic.


Benjamin Haas in Pyeongchang

The GuardianTramp

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